Curing bonding with UV light (left) and cavity repaired with composite filling (right).

Your dentist has many options for correcting a damaged or imperfect tooth, but they’re not always interchangeable. Bonding and filling are two methods that are considered direct restoration because the treatment is done in the dentist’s chair and often in a single visit. 

The dentist fabricates either the filling or the bonding material right there in the office, while other indirect restorations like crowns or dentures require the work of a dental lab. 

There’s little delay when undergoing either fillings or bonding. Yet both have different purposes, are used to treat different conditions, and are made with different materials. 

Knowing the differences between bonding and fillings will help you understand why your dentist might recommend one over the other.

Dental Bonding

Bonding is a popular cosmetic dental procedure to restore your smile when minor damage occurs.

What Is the Purpose of Bonding?

Dental bonding is largely cosmetic and is designed to hide stubborn stains, chips, fractures, and discoloration that doesn’t affect the function of the tooth. Almost everyone has a problem area in their smile that could be easily covered with a bonding treatment. Bonding is more extensive in its cosmetic value than many dental patients realize. If your tooth is more severely damaged or has decay, it’ll need a filling or a crown instead.

What Is Bonding Used to Treat?

Dental bonding is primarily recommended for issues like:

  • Misshapen teeth that don’t affect the bite pattern
  • Short teeth that could benefit from a slightly longer appearance
  • Chipped, cracked, or discolored teeth
  • Closing in gaps between teeth that otherwise have good alignment
  • Dealing with small cavities, especially those in visible areas.

Bonding is only rarely used for cavities. There is an overlap between some forms of fillings that use composite resin and bonding, which rely on the same material. However, your dentist may need to complete both fillings and bonding in different parts of your smile to prevent decay and give you a whiter and straighter smile. 

Bonding is generally seen as an alternative to veneers, which can fix many of the same issues but require more prep work and come with a higher overall cost.

How Does the Bonding Procedure Work?

Bonding is a relatively quick direct restoration procedure that the dentist can complete in one or two visits. The dentist will start by making sure the teeth are clear of plaque and tartar so there’s nothing to interfere with the bonding of the composite resin material.

The dentist roughens the tooth by making small scratches on the surface to ensure the bonding material stays tightly attached to the enamel. Then a bonding agent is brushed on and treated with a UV light. This layer helps create a strong bond. Composite resin that matches the natural shade of your teeth is brushed on and built up as necessary to lengthen or change the shape of your tooth. UV light is applied between layers to cure the material. The process is repeated until all the work is complete.

In the majority of bonding sessions, anesthesia will not be necessary. 

What Is Dental Bonding Made From?

The same composite resin used for many other dental procedures is the key to dental bonding. It’s easily matched exactly to your natural tooth shade and looks invisible when applied with care. The material is relatively durable, but care must be taken to avoid staining it or chewing on pens or ice.

How Long Does Bonding Last?

Proper care will help bonding last five to 10 years in most cases. Even if the material is intact after that point, you may want it replaced to prevent staining or to allow you to whiten the surrounding teeth.

Main Advantages of Bonding

  • More affordable than veneers and crowns
  • Easily completed and often in one visit to the dentist
  • Completed in-office and at chair-side, also known as direct restoration
  • Adaptable to dealing with many cosmetic and minor damage/cavity issues.

Dental Fillings

Almost everyone who has visited the dentist knows about fillings and how they’re required for cavities. However, there are some details to this common dental treatment you might not know.

What Is the Purpose of Fillings?

Fillings are intended primarily for stabilizing the tooth and restoring its normal strength and function. Before a filling is placed, the dentist has to remove some of the damaged enamel and dentin to prevent the decay from spreading. This leaves a gap that weakens the tooth against normal chewing forces. Putting in an amalgam or composite resin filling restores the functionality of the tooth but may or may not improve its appearance.

What Is a Filling Used to Treat?

The procedure is used almost exclusively to treat cavities. Minor cavities in visible places are sometimes filled with bonding instead.

How Does the Filling Procedure Work?

Once the dentist has identified a decayed spot in a tooth, the damaged tooth material will be removed with a drill or other specialized tool so bacteria don’t linger and continue to decay. 

The filling is quickly mixed and applied right after drilling is complete. Depending on the material used, you may just need to keep your mouth open for a few minutes or a light may be used to cure it. You can return to your normal eating and drinking routine as soon as the anesthesia wears off again.

What Are Fillings Made From?

Silver amalgam fillings have been used the longest and are still among the strongest, second only to the expensive and noticeable gold fillings. Porcelain and composite resin fillings blend in for a hidden effect. All of these materials need replacement after about 10 to 20 years, although gold can sometimes last longer.

How Long Do Fillings Last?

Fillings receive a lot of chewing and biting force, especially when used to fill the common cavities that form in the pits in the back teeth. Eventually the material loses its bond to the natural tooth material. This allows bacteria to move in, restarting the process of decay. Letting your dentist check your fillings during every routine cleaning and replace them as needed will prevent tooth damage. Depending on the filling material and habits like tooth grinding, you may need fillings replaced every 5, 10, or 20 years.

Main Advantages of Fillings

  • Stabilize decayed or damaged teeth
  • Adapt to any kind of drilled or smoothed area
  • Versatile and available in materials that match the natural teeth.

Dental Bonding vs Fillings – Summary

You won’t have to make a choice between the two because your dentist will advise you on the decision. You can rest assured that you’ll be guided to the right treatment based on your condition.

Bunker Hill Dentistry offers bonding, fillings, and much more here in Houston, TX.

Schedule a visit today to discuss your cosmetic and general dentistry needs.

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